Family beach offers ways to save bucks on vacation
February 25, 2010 ·
Myrtle Beach has a reputation as a family beach — a workingman’s destination where a week of sun and fun with the kids won’t break the bank.
In a time of layoffs, high unemployment and recession, that makes the Grand Strand — the 60 miles of shoreline from Georgetown, S.C. to the North Carolina state line — especially attractive.
The area offers a bit of everything: weathered beach bungalows at Pawleys Island and mom-and-pop hotels amid pricier high-rise condos in Myrtle Beach; amusement parks where you pay by the ride; and golf challenges ranging from tilting at mini-golf windmills to making the green on windswept layouts winding through stands of oak. But the main attraction is, and always has been, the beach.
Start your visit at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce — better yet go online before you arrive: http://www.visitmyrtlebeach.com. The main office is a few blocks off the shore in the heart of Myrtle Beach. There’s a second visitor center at the airport and a third in the fishing village of Murrells Inlet to the south. The chamber folks are invaluable at helping with reservations and sorting through an array of options.
GETTING AROUND: Most visitors arrive by car. On busy beach weekends, that can mean traffic snarls. New roads in recent years have helped. The Carolina Bays Parkway, state Route 31, and the Conway Bypass, state Route 22, now provide expressway alternatives to what was once stop-and-go traffic. An interstate link, I-73, is also in the works.
On the visitmyrtlebeach.com site, you can click on a city of origin and get an estimate of gas costs for the trip. That can help ensure your budget isn’t bushwacked even before you arrive.
FREE, OR NEARLY FREE, FAVES: A new mile-long, $6 million boardwalk, set to be completed this spring, is being built along the shore in the center of Myrtle Beach. It will have green spaces to sit and old-fashioned street lamps. During the summer, there are street performers, face painters and free concerts; http://www.myrtlebeachdowntown.com
Broadway At the Beach, between the shore and the Intracoastal Waterway, is a 350-acre entertainment and shopping complex featuring everything from an IMAX 3-D theater to Ripley’s Aquarium and from Hard Rock Cafe to burger restaurants and pubs. As the weather warms up, there are free concerts with regional acts followed by fireworks; http://www.broadwayatthebeach.com.
A change of pace from the lights and bustle of downtown Myrtle Beach is the free Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk in nearby Murrells Inlet. It offers picturesque views of the fishing boats and wildlife such as heron and gulls in a quiet walk along the inlet. On the mainland side, the walk connects with a string of eight seafood restaurants in the town locals like to call “The Seafood Capital of South Carolina;” http://www.murrellsinletmarshwalk.com
Festival season along the Grand Strand includes concerts, parades and other free events, kicking off with the annual Canadian-American Days Festival, March 13-21 — which is only fitting, since Canadians and other Northerners are the only ones in the water that early in the year. The Sun Fun Festival takes place in June and the Beach Boogie and BBQ Festival winds up the season at Labor Day; http://www.grandstrandevents.com.
From June through August, the Market Common, a shopping complex on what was once the old Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, offers a KidZone every Monday with jumping castles and the like. Kids can jump all day for $10. Friday nights the complex’s Valor Park has free live music; http://www.marketcommonevents.com
If you’re looking for something beyond sand and surf, stop by the Franklin G. Burroughs Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum. The museum, also free, has displayed contemporary art by Southern artists since 1977; http://www.myrtlebeachartmuseum.org
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE: The Myrtle Beach area offers a variety of amusement and water parks. Family Kingdom Amusement Park is the only seaside amusement park in the area. Dating to 1966, it features the signature Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster and the largest Ferris wheel in South Carolina. There’s no admission to the park itself, so parents won’t have to pay if it’s only the kids who want to ride. There are individual ride tickets or a $33 combo pass for unlimited rides for a day at both the amusement and water parks; http://www.FamilyKingdomFun.com